It looks like one of the potential hurdles to the planned licensing of high-demand spectrum in South Africa may have been overcome after the country’s number three operator Telkom ended its legal battle with regulator the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA).
Telkom reportedly reached an out-of-court settlement with ICASA late last week. Among its complaints had been that the spectrum auction process favoured big mobile operators and was anti-competitive.
The auction had already gone ahead – on 17 March – so there was potential for disruption had Telkom’s complaint been upheld. It would certainly have been a major blow for a process that was much more successful than had been expected, raising nearly a billion dollars from the six bidders taking part.
Now however, Telkom seems to be happy that the settlement addresses the main complaints that led Telkom to take its case to court; in particular it gives so-called challenger operators like Telkom further opportunity to acquire sub-1 GHz spectrum.
ICASA said in a separate statement it will commence with the licensing of the unsold 800MHz spectrum band that was not sold in last month's auction and any other spectrum that is presently available for licensing.
Reuters points out that in the licensing process of the spectrum, ICASA will consider the imbalances in this band and the impact of the outcome of the auction on competition in the mobile market. It will also carry out an inquiry into the existence of a secondary market for spectrum and whether regulatory intervention is required.
Is the long wait – over 17 years so far – for new spectrum to expand 4G capacity and roll out 5G finally over? It may be, though the licensing of the remaining spectrum will not be over until March 2023.